Artificial Intelligence’s avid proponents talk about how this technology is revolutionizing the world and becoming the way of the future. AI can mimic words, phrases, thoughts and even artwork of anyone -- real or fictional – resulting in credible documents, essays, term papers and visual art.
No matter how much computers and programs improve, however – even if sentience is achieved, one fact will remain unchanged: AI words are not alive.
In his book Zen & Japanese Culture, Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki observes:
Zen masters have the saying, “Examine the living words and not the dead ones.” The dead ones are those that no longer pass directly and concretely and intimately on to the experience. They are conceptualized, they are cut off from the living roots.
He notes when thoroughly understood, living words immediately lead “to the understanding of the hundreds of thousands of other words or statements given by the Zen masters.
“Living words” must come from deep within the person’s being. When one is Emptiness, one transcends all of time and space: There is no ego, no separation, no limits. In this state, Suzuki says “doors of perception open and a new vista hitherto undreamed of is presented.”
With this new perception, all words– and indeed all actions and thoughts – are alive with the energy of the entire universe. In this state, there is no person separate from the universe.
Zen accepts neither mimicry nor mere existence. Even an AI program developed by a highly advanced Zen Master would still be limited by both the here-now of the computer’s physical and technical existence and the here-now of any person using it. AI itself is a limitation.
What Zen looks at is being, whether of the programmer, user or even a sentient-like computer. Each must be empty so that they transcend the here-now and have thus become one with all time and all space. At this point, the medium – AI or otherwise – is superfluous. Then and only then, do words become truly alive.
Zen requires the person to be “one with” the Universe. When that happens, there is no computer, no programmer, no person using AI and no AI. It is all one.